I'm not a serious food writer, what may be called a gastronome. I'm not a serious writer. I'm not serious, lo digo en serio. But I write about food. An occasional column called "Consumed" in the Miami Herald, a book about Cuban food titled Cortadito, to be published next month by Books & Books. Food stories here and there, and an article titled "Mi Paladar" in the Fall 2013 issue of Gastronomica, which is, yes, a serious publication. These are, like everything else I write, amateur efforts; though I beg my readers the indulgence of recognizing that amateur means lover. Amador. I love food and I love writing.
Nor am I a serious cook. I cook every day, for my family. Often I cook for friends and even more family. They all seem to enjoy it. Not always. I make horrendous errors. I misjudge others' tastes. I make dishes for the first time and then I make mental notes to never do that again. But among friends and family these slips can be forgiven. They can even be swallowed if one is hungry enough and, hell, you have to eat something and tomorrow is another meal.
Every once in a while someone who knows nothing about gastronomy will call me a gourmet cook or just a gourmet. I know almost nothing about gastronomy, just enough to know that word is worn out and, in any case, it doesn't apply to me. And every once in a while someone will call me a foodie. I resist the temptation to slap, castigate, and call for pistols at dawn, and I forgive them for they know not what they're saying. Plus I've never handled a pistol and I hate to get up by dawn.
A foodie! The horror!
I've never taken a cooking class. I've never been on a food tour. And, yes, I can hear whoever has been a victim of my clueless ways around a kitchen, say, "it shows!"
I don't care much for chef cuisine. Nor for innovation. On the contrary. What I love to find is tradition. Reactionary? Perhaps. I believe food is culture. But art? Well, there's all kinds of art, so I guess so. Food art can be as pretentious, uninspired and ultimately boring as any other. Can it be fine art? For some, it would seem. I'm not that refined.
I'm not a bad home cook. My mother was a fine one. Her mother was awesome. Both my mother and I aspired to cook something as good as hers. Estrella Perez never read a cookbook. She cooked on a coal stove in a tiny low-rent apartment and with cheap ingredients. My mother told me Estrella would go the butcher, back when butchers butchered, and talked him into letting her have the steer's guts for free. Which, adding a sofrito, olives and capers, she would turn into a magnificent tripe dish to feed her whole big family.
I never ate her tripe, but I remember her arroz con pollo and her caldo gallego. Her rabbit fricassee -- she killed, skinned, gutted and bled the rabbit -- was the best thing I've ever eaten. Having tasted that is how I know I'm not such a good cook. But I keep trying.
All cultures I know, which are only a few, have fine food traditions, some, I believe, more magnificent than others. I live now in what may be called the Deep South, home of some really great food. I try to learn it, but it's not easy. I have yet to master collard greens, though I'm getting better. Pretty much given up on fried chicken. And don't even dare fry hush puppies. And that's only the simple stuff. On the other hand, I don't do badly with some Louisiana dishes, but that's probably because the palate there is so close, for obvious historical reasons, to that of my Spanish Caribbean origins. To be fair, I've never tested my fare on anyone from the region, so I'm probably just boasting.
But I'll allow myself the boast. Food is about plenitude, not ascetic humility. At least the food I like to cook and eat. It's a little messy, a little sloppy, pretty indulgent, supremely pleasurable. Like . . . now, did y'all think I wasn't going to sneak that in?